INTERNATIONAL MEGAN'S LAW TO PREVENT DEMAND FOR CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING

February 1, 2016
Floor Statements

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to H.R. 515, International Megan's Law. While I support the underlying goal of ensuring that American law enforcement agencies share information on potential child sex offenders with foreign law enforcement agencies, I am opposed to how one particular provision, added in the Senate amendment before us today, would work in practice.

   Other existing provisions of the bill already contain the following information-sharing requirements with and among law enforcement agencies here in the United States and abroad:

   U.S. sex offenders are required to provide international travel-related information to the sex offender registries;

   the Department of Homeland Security is required to create the Angel Watch Center to receive information on individuals seeking to enter the U.S. who have committed offenses of a sexual nature as well as registered sex offenders seeking to travel outside the U.S. in order to share all relevant information to federal, state, and local law enforcement officials;

   the U.S. Marshal's Service is required to notify law enforcement agencies of sex offenders seeking to leave the United States who have not transmitted their travel information to sex offender registries;

   the U.S. Marshal's Service is required to notify the international destination country of a sex offender's upcoming travel; and

   the Secretary of State should seek reciprocal international agreements or arrangements to further these goals.

   If our goal is to ensure that customs and border as well as law enforcement officials are notified so that they may track and investigate those sex offenders who may be engaging in sex tourism or pose a threat of absconding, these provisions have addressed those concerns.

   As a result, I am skeptical of what more we stand to gain by the Senate amendment's provision authorizing the Secretary of State to use a ``unique passport identifier for covered sex offenders'' that is defined as ``any visual designation affixed to a conspicuous location on the passport indicating the individual is a covered sex offender.'' At best, if this vague language is meant to describe some sort of code or symbol embedded in the passport that is only discernible by law enforcement at the border indicating that the traveler is a sex offender, it is redundant given the other information-sharing mandated by the bill's other provisions. However, if this is interpreted to mean something akin to the words ``sex offender'' stamped on the identification page of the passport, this raises serious problems and will lead to unintended consequences.

   First, it is simply bad policy to single out one category of offenses for this type of treatment. We do not subject those who murder, who defraud the government or our fellow citizens of millions and billions, or who commit acts of terrorism to these restrictions.

   Second, by treating all sexual offenders as one monolithic group ignores reality. While some pose a continued and real risk of reoffending and may be traveling to engage in sex tourism or other illicit acts, not all pose the same risk. Indeed, the failure of this provision to allow for the individualized consideration of the facts and circumstances surrounding the traveler's criminal history, including how much time has elapsed since his last offense, underscores how this provision is overbroad. Details such as whether the traveler is a serial child rapist versus someone with a decades-old conviction from when he was 19-years-old and his girlfriend was 14, just missing the Romeo and Juliet exception by one year, are significant and would allow law enforcement to more appropriately prioritize their finite resources.

   Third, a traveler does not have any recourse with the foreign destination country if he or she is refused entry solely on the basis of this ``unique passport identifier.'' While the bill has some due process provisions, those apply only domestically. There is no recourse if a traveler is erroneously denied entry from the destination country.

   Fourth, if the ``unique passport identifier'' is implemented in a way that makes it obvious to not only law enforcement officials but any member of the general public viewing the passport, this could lead to unintended consequences of persecution and harm to the traveler. This is especially troubling given that no factual context about the offense is provided.

   If our goal is to ensure that domestic and foreign law enforcement and customs officials are notified of potential threats, multiple existing provisions of the bill already achieve that goal without raising these problematic implementation and fairness concerns.

   In summary, while I support the underlying goal of ensuring that American law enforcement agencies share information on potential child sex offenders with foreign law enforcement agencies, I have grave concerns about how the redundant and problematic provision regarding the ``unique passport identifier'', added as a Senate amendment, would work in practice. Therefore, I urge my colleagues to oppose the underlying bill.